In a study just published on PLoS One entitled “Lithium Impacts on the Amplitude and Period of the Molecular Circadian Clockwork,” researchers at the University of Manchester (Jian Li, Wei-Qun Lu, Stephen Beesley, Andrew S. I. Loudon, and Qing-Jun Meng) have discovered that lithium works as a pacemaker for the circadian clock, which may help to explain lithium’s mechanism of action – how it works.
“By tracking the dynamics of a key clock protein, we discovered that lithium increased the strength of the clockwork in cells up to three-fold by blocking the actions of an enzyme called glycogen synthase kinase or GSK3.
“Our findings are important for two reasons: firstly, they offer a novel explanation as to how lithium may be able to stabilise mood swings in bipolar patients; secondly, they open up opportunities to develop new drugs for bipolar disorder that mimic and even enhance the effect lithium has on GSK3 without the side-effects lithium salts can cause.”
Dr Qing-Jun Meng, in the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences
We have known for some time that people with bipolar disorder often experience severe disruptions to their sleep-wake cycles. This may be a contributing factor to the onset of major mood episodes, the result of such episodes, or both. Certain adjunct therapies, such as Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPRST) are specifically designed to help establish routines that are conducive to healthy biorhythms, so it makes sense that any medication or substance that promotes circadian rhythm regularity would also help alleviate symptoms of depression and mania.
This study serves as an important reminder for those with bipolar disorder just how important our biorhythms are in regaining and maintaining mental health and well-being. In addition, the study may point the way to new approaches for treating bipolar disorder and major depression through the circadian clockwork.
Sunrise and flowers photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 15 Mar 2012